A Playful Take on Sperm Banks Aiming to Reverse the Objectification of Women in the Reproductive Process
Miiko Shan He
As a designer, I am interested in finding ways to use design to encourage people to think critically about social issues. Instead of redesigning existing products or developing new products to solve problems, I want to use design to comment on contemporary issues. The issue I want to draw attention to through my thesis project is the objectification of women by men.
When doing research on the objectification of women, I did not limit my research only to China because this is a global issue. Even though the ways, influences, and phenomenon might be different in each country, the causes are the same.
The result of objectification of women by men has caused many women to have a misunderstanding of their own value. When talking about objectification, we usually think about negatively commenting on appearance, but regarding people as functions is also objectification. In this case, women are generally objectified as a reproduction tool.
I designed the sperm bank Cumulus Center to comment on this issue. By employing humor and satire, I intend to redirect the objectification of women as reproductive tools by highlighting the notion that women should have full reproductive freedom.
In Cumulus Center, all male donors are objectified as virtual objects which look like cute human-like characters called Flakes. Women pick and purchase Flakes from the Cumulus Center's website. The website has a gamified interface where people can both interact with Flakes and purchase Flakes based on a series of diverse preferences. Not limited to an online service, Cumulus Center also provides offline resale vending machines. Like Gashapon machines, the offline resale vending machines allow women to purchase random capsules, which include a Flake toy and, of course, a sperm sample.
Animation by Nestor Pestana Photographs by Jonathan Allen and myself
Jonathan AllenFlake from WebsiteFlakes from Gamified Website: Expiration time: 6 month; Price: $30 - $200; Note: Please keep your Flake in the refrigerator!
Jonathan AllenFlake from WebsiteSelecting and purchasing Flakes from Cumulus Center's gamified website. People can interact with the Flakes by asking questions or asking Flakes to demo their fighting abilities, by fighting one another to compare.
This video shows a gameplay process of selecting and purchasing Flakes from Cumulus Center's shopping website. The experience consists of selecting favorite characters based on the information players receive through their interaction with each character. This mimics social interactions like conversation and the observation of characters' behaviors.
People can interact with Flakes by asking questions or asking Flakes to demonstrate their "fighting abilities", which list out their strengths and compares them with each other. There are also filters that are based on players' preferences, which help to take away the Flakes that do not match. It works as choice questions, the questions range from people's RH factors to their preference of appearance to some preferences of lifestyle. There are beakers on the lower left corner with which to keep the Flake that people are happy. Finally, people can purchase the Flake with whom they are most happy.
As is shown in the Video, there are currently 5 different types of Flakes that have been launched. They are Socialite, the pink one, Artist, the blue one, Poetic, the green one, Sporty, the yellow one, and Intellectual, the orange one. Each Flake will have actions that reflect their characteristics. The design of the Flake types and characteristics reflect the criteria that women set for men. Men need to fulfill the criteria if they want to be a sperm donor. This process reflects the self-objectification of men. There will be many donors under one Flake type. Their price ranges according to the scores of the donors, which were evaluated before each donation.
After purchasing Flakes online, Cumulus Center will send the sperm sample through the mail. The Flakes people received take the form of toys. The head part is the container for the sperm, and the body part is a sealed plug. I intentionally made the Flakes look very cute with bright colors. I did this to reference the collectible garage kit toys, which are a product of both game and anime industries.
With this design, I want to say that making this decision should be a woman's own decision without pressure from other's. The Flake toys need to be stored in a refrigerator to keep fresh, as there will be an expiration time. Women can decide whether they want to use it or not before the expiration time.
Not limited to online services, Cumulus Center also provides offline resale vending machines. These function as Gashapon machines with which women can obtain random capsules containing Flake toys and sperm samples.
The differences between the online and offline purchasing are the price and expiration time. Flakes from the vending machines have a shorter expiration time of 3 months, while Flakes from online shopping have 6 months. This is because the vending machines are less efficient at keeping the Flakes fresh when compared to the storage for Flakes from online shopping. The price of the Flakes online will range from $30 - $200, while the Flakes from the vending machines have a fixed price, which is $20. However, there are chances to get a $200 Flake from the vending machine.
When people purchase a Flake, they can decide whether they want to use it or not before the expiration time. If they decide to use it, there are many ways to do so. If they decide not to use it, the Flake can be kept as a toy.